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posted on 11 March 2016

Do Any Of The Current Rallies Pass "The Sniff Test"?

by Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds

No! But you can't tame the monster of speculative, legalized looting and financialization.

Everything from iron ore to copper to the Baltic Dry Index to stocks to bat guano is rallying. The problem is not a single rally passes "the sniff test:" is the rally the result of changing fundamentals, or is it merely short-covering and/or speculative hot money leaping from one rally to the next?

Every one of these rallies is bogus, a travesty of a mockery of a sham of price discovery, supposedly the core function of markets. What shift in fundamentals drove this rally? Higher profits? No, profits are declining, especially once the phony adjustments are stripped away. Is the global economy strengthening? Don't make us laugh!

As Chris Martenson and many others have noted, "price discovery" is a joke now, as markets are either propped up by central bank "we got your back" guarantees or outright asset purchases, or driven up and down by speculative hot money flows.

Even the recent (and overdue) run-up in gold has a speculative-fever feel. Whatever the market, the game is the same: traders goose the markets higher with futures purchases, pile on with buying that attracts latecomers, who are then sold the rally at the top and left holding the bag when the rally inevitably deflates, once the speculative hot money exits.

This is not capitalism, or a functioning market: this is the end-game of legalized looting and financialization. What's the value of real estate? If interest rates are pushed negative, then that gooses housing demand, as the cost of interest on a mortgage declines to near-zero in real terms.

What would the value be at 5% mortgage rates? What would the interest rate be in a truly private mortgage market, one that wasn't dominated by government agencies and central banks? Nobody knows.

Once you lower interest to zero, the market can no longer price the difference between a mal-investment and a sound investment. Price and risk discovery are dead.

Prop up asset bubbles with direct asset purchases, and markets abandon valuations in favor of following the manipulation. Price discovery is dead.

Create trillions in near-zero interest hot money seeking a quick return, and markets can no longer price anything but hot-money capital flows of the moment. Hot money is flowing in--rally! Hot money is exiting--bust!

The financialization snake is eating its own tail. Once everything has been financialized and commoditized, the price is set not by fundamentals but by state/central bank manipulation (politely called "intervention") and the capital flows chasing the manipulations.

The game requires being one step ahead. The leap out of stocks into iron ore, then out of iron ore into oil, then out of oil into gold, then out of gold into the shippers, then out of the shippers into bat guano--the game is speeding up as the markets become completely detached from any fundamental valuation price discovery.

The price is what the next flipper will pay. This is now the foundation of the global economy: central banks have destroyed price discovery to prop up asset bubbles that serve the power of the privileged few, and a global financial system awash in trillions of dollars of hot money, unsecured debt, derivatives, shadow banking loans, petrodollars and sovereign wealth funds is chasing the next hot sector.

The more the monster thrashes, the faster the cycles of boom and bust and the greater the manipulations the central planners must impose to keep the beast alive. Is there any greater desperation possible than negative interest rates, which scream there is no way out, we are clueless, this is our last best idea to save the monster from destroying itself.

But you can't tame the monster of speculative, legalized looting and financialization. The monster is thrashing about, smashing everything it touches. Anyone who thinks negative interest rates will tame this monster is delusional.


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